In December 2009 astronomers announced the discovery of a planet around the star GJ 1214, at a distance of 13 parsecs (approximately 40 light-years) from Earth. Analysis of the planet’s tug on its star, and the thickness of its atmosphere led the team to believe that they had discovered a planet similar to Earth (only significantly larger).
New research, unveiled just an hour ago, has shed some new light on this celestial body.
The planet, GJ 1214 b, was originally believed to have been a watery world but new, more precise spectral analysis has debunked this belief.
It turns out that instead of H2O being present in the atmosphere it is, in fact, largely unbonded hydrogen mixed with helium. This composition makes GJ 1214 b similar to Neptune rather than our own planet.
Despite the former classification of being a “Super Earth” (a terrestial planet several times larger than our homeworld) the chances of life on this alien world was relatively slim (and even slimmer now). This planet is believed to have temperatures ranging from 120–282°C (depending on the planet’s reflectivity).
As time, and technology, progress we are likely to see the reclassification of additional exoplanets out of the 493 currently discovered.
Although this announcement has dashed our hopes of GJ 1214 b being a world like our own, it is only a matter of time until we can start detecting habitable planets like the one we call home.
Written by: Ben Lovatt